New Zealand reports first locally acquired Covid case in three weeks

New Zealand has reported its first locally acquired case of Covid-19 in more than three weeks on the heels of a sweeping electoral victory for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party, dealing a blow to hopes the country had eliminated transmission of the virus within its shores.

The positive test was recorded on Saturday — election day in New Zealand — by a person who worked on ships docked at ports in Auckland and Taranaki. Authorities said the case had been caught early and the risk is contained, while close contacts of the man are undergoing testing and hotels where he stayed are deep cleaned.

News of the latest Covid-19 case follows the governing Labour party’s sweeping electoral victory on Saturday, which will see prime minister Jacinda Ardern serve a second term in office. Labour achieved its best result in half a century on the back of a campaign based around its 40-year-old leader’s adept handling of Covid-19, which has caused just 25 deaths in New Zealand.

Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director-general of health, said testing will be stepped up to contain any potential spread of the virus. He said the most likely source of the new case were vessels on which the man worked, rather than a previous Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland in August which ended a run of 100 days without a locally acquired case.

“This is most likely a border related case and so far there is no evidence of onward community transmission,” said Mr Bloomfield, adding the rapid response by authorities showed their systems were working. “The case is another reminder that Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon.”

Community transmission of the virus in New Zealand was eradicated in late September for a second time following the outbreak in Auckland in August. Over recent weeks New Zealand was able to remove almost all social-distancing restrictions bar the closure of its international borders and strict quarantine arrangements for returning residents.

The re-emergence of a locally acquired case of Covid-19 will likely spark criticism from a vocal minority of local and international critics, who warn strict lockdowns are unsustainable.

In August President Trump appeared to criticise Ms Ardern’s handling of the pandemic, telling reporters New Zealand was in the grip of a ‘massive outbreak’ and the US did not want such a ‘big surge’. New Zealand has reported 1,530 cases of Covid-19, compared to more than 8m in the US.

But the scale of Labour’s electoral victory — it is on course to win a majority of seats in parliament for the first time since 1996 — suggests the tough lockdown policy retains overwhelming public support.

Richard Shaw, professor of politics at Massey University, said Labour’s victory in New Zealand’s Covid-19 election could provide lessons for politicians in other nations facing voters.

 “Act like a grown up. Listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Don’t trash talk the opposition. Mostly, figure out where the median voter lives and hang out there,” he said.

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